WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Marvel’s Luke Cage Season 2, streaming now on Netflix
Despite the abiding desire by many Marvel Comics readers to see Luke Cage paired with his classic Heroes for Hire partner, Danny Rand attracted few fans in his live-action debut. The worst-received entry among Marvel’s Netflix dramas, by far, the first season of Iron Fist gave viewers a meandering story, poorly defined antagonists and, worst of all, an unlikable hero who behaved like an insolent teen whose years in mystical K’un-Lun honed him into a living weapon, but apparently stripped him of a sense of humor. But while The Defenders began a course correction for the character in its jam-packed eight episodes, it’s the second season of Luke Cage that actually shows how much fun Iron Fist can actually be.
Played once again by Game of Thrones alum Finn Jones, this Danny Rand isn’t a “reboot”; the writers didn’t rebuild the character from scratch. He slips off his shoes as soon as he steps into Pop’s Barber Shop, insists he fought an honest-to-goodness dragon, and urges Luke to meditate. Yet, he’s different, likable. Maybe even cool. He has “swagger,” as D.W. Griffith notes, enough to make even the harshest critics of Iron Fist take a chance on its upcoming second season.
Visiting Harlem in Episode 10, “The Experiment,” ostensibly to check in his friend after a second humiliating defeat by Bushmaster, he opens with a good-natured jab at the Hero of Harlem’s fame — “No way, is that the Luke Cage?” — displaying a lightheartedness that was previously missing. Like the audience, Luke immediately knows he’s somehow different, “settled.” He’s no longer the angry barefoot monk, seeking vengeance, or the stranger in a strange land.
“I’m still,” Danny replies. “You know, the power comes from stillness, Luke.” That begins a thread that runs throughout “The Experiment,” as the two debate the source of power. Does it come from stillness, from money or, as Luke suggests, “from getting shit done”?
Danny isn’t introduced into the story for a philosophical debate, however. Although there are plenty of viewers who no doubt wonder whether anyone needs Iron Fist, at this point in the season, Luke Cage does. Angry, defeated and alone, with Claire gone and Harlem turning against him, Danny arrives at just the right time, to bring his friend clarity and, yes, stillness. If Danny is “settled,” embracing his new home and his new pledge, to protect New York City, Luke is … well, the opposite. Bushmaster has gone to ground, without a trace, and Luke is at a loss for where to find him. Enter Iron Fist, who brings with him clarity, a little humor — he buys a green hoodie from D.W. with “Sweet XMas” emblazoned in yellow letters — and, of course, a powerful punch.
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